I.O.W.A. 2019 Weekend

On September 7th and 8th, readers had the chance to visit over 20 authors at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. Over the course of the two-day event, they sat on panels, met new authors, listened to readings, participated in author speed dating, and challenged themselves to collect author signatures to win a grand prize. Though the weather was beautiful, and there was a Hawkeye game going on, avid readers still made their way to the signing! IMG_3560

The day kicked off with a panel about “Indie Author Publishing” with authors Tricia Andersen, JoJo Bartlett, and Mary Bleckwehl. They shared their journeys in the world of indie publishing from the costs involved, the marketing, and the troubles authors can run into with publishers when they’re writing a series.

Meanwhile, the rest of the authors greeted the first guests of the day in Beems. The room could have easily fit 30 tables, and provided plenty of space for authors to break out their displays and show off their books and swag.

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Author Leslie Kung and Concierge of The Cedar Room, the Cedar Rapids all-genre Room.
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Author Beth Hudson and the designer for our I.O.W.A. pamphlet.
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Author Myron Williams and fellow I.O.W.A. programmer.

As the day went on, readers had the opportunity to sit in and listen to the authors read from their books.

RC Reading
Author R.C. Davis
Teresa readig
Author Teresa Holmgren

When 1pm rolled around, I.O.W.A. kicked off its first ever Author Speed Dating. Authors sat at tables in the Greyhound Cafe while readers got a chance to sit with them for three minutes to learn about their books and ask questions. When the bell rang, readers moved to the next author. There were three rounds; romance, wild card, and fantsy/sci-fi. While readers were a bit shy of the experience at first, we hope repeating it a few times will encourage people to sit with the authors and find their next favorite book.

Sunday welcomed I.O.W.A. with a dreary, rainy day, (perfect weather for writing in my opinion). But the panels, readings, and signing went on! Authors covered topics about “The Writing Parent” and “The Creative Process.”

Every person who attended I.O.W.A. received a swag bag, with the first 50 containing books! A big thank you to M and M Bookstore for providing the bags and to the Coralville Public Library for providing the books!

Swag

All-in-all it was a fun event that has the potential to grow in years to come. Plans are already being put into place for I.O.W.A. 2020 with authors and volunteers providing feedback and suggestions to make the next event even better.

As always, a big thank you goes out to everyone who attended, and to the incredible volunteers who put the event together: Eliza David, Betsy Casey, Emily Schulz, Ross T Byers, Myron Williams, Leslie Kung, Brandi Parsons, Derek Maurer, Dana Beatty, Beth Hudson, Terri LeBlanc, and more. This is certainly a writing community that I’m proud to call my own.

For more pictures, visit our facebook page. To learn more about I.O.W.A. and The Writers’ Rooms, visit http://www.thewritersrooms.org.

 

 

How to Write a Synopsis (The Writers’ Rooms)

As you may know, I’m the Director of The Writers’ Rooms, a literary organization focused on providing a free, safe environment to all writers, no matter their experience, income, gender, etc. The specific “Room” I lead is The Violet Realm, which is our Sci-fi/Fantasy group. What’s a Room, you ask? It’s a two-hour session with a literary lesson during the first hour and then free writing/sharing the second hour. We have a plethora of groups ranging from poetry, romance, LGBT, all-genre, with more coming soon! The community is wonderful, and I’m thankful for every person who brings their story to us. Best of all, the Rooms are free.

Tonight, we talked about how to write a synopsis. I thought I’d share it with you so you could get an idea of the information that The Writers’ Rooms has to offer, and also provide some tips on how to prep a synopsis for querying an agent.

What is a synopsis? A synopsis is, in short, the summary of your story. You’ll need this if you’re querying a traditional publisher. But, this is also a great way for you to figure out the main plot of your story! 

Rules of thumb: 

  • Only name your MC and main villain (typically only 3 characters at most). Briefly outline their roles so you can refer back to them throughout the synopsis. The first time you list the name, write it in all caps. 
  • A good synopsis should only be about 500 words. Any longer, and an agent may toss it out the window, or you may realize you have some work to do.
  • You must tell the whole story, including the ending gasp! The agent has to know where the story’s going, and so do you! 
  • Focus on the main plot, not any of the subplots. The subplots are for the book. 
  • You need to know what your characters want and make the plot out of that. What are their ultimate goals? 

How to Set Up the Synopsis

You may remember from a previous session that we talked about the Beat Sheet to set up your entire story. Making your synopsis is very similar. Together, we’ll take a look at an amazing resource called “How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis”  with a little flare added. Source is at the bottom. 

 

  • Set the Scene: Create the stage for your world and your characters. We need to know what genre/timeline you’re focusing on. Fantasy? Show us the castle. Science Fiction? Show us the ship and the world. Enchant us with the very first line.
  • Introduce the Protagonist: Bring in your Main Character (in all caps). We want a couple descriptive words to say what he/she wants, and to help us identify him/her. Blacksmith? Banker? Butler? Let us know! 
  • Inciting Incident: Yes, we’re taking a trip to Freytag’s Pyramid. What event, decision, or change prompts the main character to act? Is it a death in the family? A murder? A young boy buying a robot with a hidden message? 
  • Plot Point #1: This is where we get into the first big change in the story. What’s the first turning point? What does the MC do to change the book’s direction? This is the point where your heroine might start out on her journey to travel to a different planet or go on an epic quest. 
  • Conflict and Other Characters: Your character enters a new world/environment. What new life experience does she have? How does she meet the antagonist/villain? This is also a chance for you to bring in, say, a love interest. But again, only include important characters. 
  • Midpoint: This is the point when the MC may have to make a 180 degree change or emotion in the story. Once she crosses this line, she can’t go back. She makes a decision that changes everything. Or maybe her cowardly nature turns to heroism. 
  • We’re Winning! Whoops, No We’re Not: Reveal when your MC thinks she has the upper hand but then the antagonist swoops in to ruin everything. Maybe a magical item gets stolen, or an escaping ship gets shot down. For once, the villain has the advantage.
  • Darkest Night: This is when your MC has hit rock bottom. She has to fight through it both emotionally and physically. Maybe the villain has trapped her. Maybe she’s had everything taken away. How does she find the strength to enter the final battle? 
  • Climax: Battle time! What happens when the MC and the antagonist come head-to-head? Yes, we do need the conclusion. 
  • Resolution: How does the climax end? Does everyone live happily ever after, or are we doing a Shakespearean ending and killing everyone? How do you tie up loose ends, and loose romances? 
  • Closing Scene: What’s the last scene you want to leave your reader with? Has the MC won or failed? Is there a future waiting? We want to know! 

 

Prompts: 

  1. Take your story and write a synopsis. Use the outline above to separate out each important moment from your plot. 
  2. Think of a new story and use the outline to plot it out. 

 

Let’s Go, Indiegogo!

Last year I set up an Indiegogo campaign to help launch The Purple Door District. Thanks to all of the amazing donations, I was able to print 100 books for publication and use the rest of the money to take care of some marketing elements. This year, I’m back at it again with my second campaign, set to last 60 days (instead of 30) with a goal of reaching $2,500 to print Wolf Pit.

I’ve had several people ask me what Indiegogo is. Well, Indiegogo is a website that allows creators to set up campaigns to help raise money towards a particular goal, usually for a product. People who back the campaign receive rewards/perks depending on the tier they pick. For example, $1 in my campaign will get you a shout out on social media, whereas $25 will get you the e-book versions of both The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit once the second book is released. The higher the tier, the more perks you receive!

Indiegogo is very much like Kickstarter except Indiegogo seems to be more author-friendly. Also, while Kickstarter is an “all or nothing” campaign, meaning you either hit your goal and get everything, or you don’t and get nothing, Indiegogo also provides a flexible campaign in which the creator receives whatever donations are made, even if the goal isn’t met. I personally prefer the flexible goal, just in case I can’t meet the deadline. Some say it’s better to do all or nothing because it pushes people to donate, but I don’t want to risk it. I know how hard it is to have money problems, and I’d rather people feel more comfortable donating a smaller amount, if anything at all. As I always say, every dollar helps!

With that being said, here’s information regarding my campaign. At the very least, hopefully it will help other writers get ideas for setting up their own campaigns! I actually used the template that Indiegogo suggested. Don’t forget to check out the actual campaign and see the book trailer/welcome video.

Overview
“Wolf Pit” is the sequel to the urban fantasy book, “The Purple Door District.” Werewolves are going missing, and the District must come together to solve the mystery of their disappearance. In the same vein, I’ve relied on the community to help me build this book. Editors, artists, marketing specialists, and other authors have been vital to its production. I want to raise the money both to print this book, and to also support other creators. Will you help the District?

Who Am I and Who’s the Community?

My name is Erin Casey, and I’m an urban fantasy and YA fantasy writer, as well as the Director of a writing organization called The Writers’ Rooms. TWR is a non-profit corporation focused on providing a free and safe environment to all writers no matter their gender, skill set, background, income, etc. I focus on bringing communities of writers together to help them learn from one another. This is what drove me to want to write about the diverse community in The Purple Door District series.

The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit started out as part of a canon that AE Kellar and I are writing together and hoping to publish in the future. PDD was a smaller component of it, but I fell in love with the concept and asked if I could write a series based on it to help support our main canon. She has been vital in helping me make sure I keep my facts straight! We jokingly say that she’s the brain and I’m the heart of our series. I couldn’t have done this without her.

So what is Wolf Pit about? Here’s the blurb:

My dream is to become an author and help inspire other people. Community plays a big part in my life now, because it was something I grew up without as a child. Last year I ran a campaign and it enabled me to print The Purple Door District. Now I’m looking for help to print Wolf Pit and also support the creative minds who are helping me.

Your generous contributions will allow me to publish the books and support additional creators:

  • Author and Editor Leona Bushman who edited the book and is an author herself.
  • Author and Proofreader, Shakyra Dunn who proofread and sensitivity read my book. See her book down below.
  • Author, Leslie Kung, who has agreed to sensitivity read my book. Check out her work on Patreon!
  • Jewelry maker Amanda Bouma who will help create jewelry for the book.
  • Artist Oni Algarra who is creating character portraits. (Tess from PDD and Wolf Pit is featured below)

Not only would this ensure the production of this book, it would open up the possibility to a series that would continue to bring more work to you and invest in these members of the literary community.

What I Need

My goal is to be open and honest with everyone, so here are what the funds will go towards:

  • Editing through Leona Bushman $500+
  • Business Cards $40
  • Book printing through Ingramspark ($6.74 per book) x 100   $850 (shipping included)
  • Ingramspark Print and Ebook Set up  $50
  • Art Marketing  $150 (for Oni)
  • Promotional Publishing/swag  $300
  • Cover $50 (for artist on Fiverr)
  • Copyright $25
  • Additional Costs (additional marketing/publicity, donation books, office supplies, ec). 

What You Get

  • Character art! Just look at that awesome picture by Oni!
  • Book swag!
  • First look at items to be sold alongside Wolf Pit and the first chance to receive them!
  • Jewelry and items that I and Amanda Bouma create for The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit. 
  • E-books
  • Printed copies
  • A one-on-one writing talk with me
  • and much more!

The Impact

I can’t even express how important your support is. Self-publishing is becoming a more respected form of publishing, and I can’t do it without your help. In a time when our country feels so divided, I think it’s valuable to bring a book with a diverse cast to the community. You get to read through the eyes of characters who are Latino/a, Native American, black, Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, LGBT, etc, and with those who have different beliefs to survive. Even if the different parahumans have prejudices against one another, they’re able to put it aside to make their community safer for themselves and for their children. I hope that people who read this will see themselves in these characters. As I get deeper in to the series, I want to bring in more people of different nationalities, beliefs, and abilities so they can feel represented as well.

Here are just a few of the reviews from The Purple Door District about the world:

  • This book has a great group of characters that are diverse in many ways, and the author will have you falling in love with each one of them. The PDD is a safe haven for all parahumans and it is interesting how all of the different species co-exist together. –Amazon Review
  • THE PURPLE DOOR DISTRICT has everything I want from an urban fantasy series–a big, diverse community of characters who have the same general goals but are at odds with each other as far as how to achieve them, a great blend of high stakes action scenes and poignant emotional moments, and the looming threat of a group of Hunters determined to track down and eliminate magical beings. –Amazon Review
  • It has been a very long time since a book has made me cry, in sadness and joy. The emotion in these characters is so moving, you can’t help but feel you are there with every character through a ride of a story. The people of the Purple Door District are multi-dimensional and it was so great to see such diversity among the characters in a modern fantasy book.  —Amazon Review

You have the opportunity to see a group of creative minds come together to create this book and its future series. We can do this together, and in December, I hope you’ll feel proud holding this book in your hands.

Other Ways You Can Help

I completely understand that you may not be able to donate, and that’s okay! There are other ways you can help!

  • Share this campaign on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
  • Share this campaign word-of-mouth! Get your friends involved. Show them how they can help a creative community.
  • Let me know what you would like to see promoted. More jewelry? More art? What representation do you want to see in future books?
  • Want to make a smaller but still powerful contribution? Consider becoming a patron on Patreon and receive chapters of the book before everyone else!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I can’t do this without you!

Cheers!

Erin Casey

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wolf-pit-urban-fantasy-novel

www.erincasey.org

How to Steal Writing Time From a Busy Schedule

In this crazy world called life, it’s often hard to find time to sit down and write. Between work, families, extra-curricular activities, shopping, adulting, etc, when are we supposed to work on our books? Many people say they have stories in their head but no time to put them on paper. I can sympathize, really. I’m usually running around from 8am-8 or 9 pm depending on the day, which leaves only a couple hours to get things done.

So what do you do? How do you steal some time from your busy schedule so you can create your masterpiece?

  • Meeting: Set aside a half hour or hour on certain nights and treat it like you would a work meeting or an appointment. If friends, or work, try to schedule things at that time, calmly explain you have a meeting that you can’t miss. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll be at adapting to the new schedule. It could be once a week or several times a week. Either way, it gives you time when you know you can work.
  • Spurts or Sprints: I learned this little trick during NaNoWriMo. You set 10-15 minutes aside, turn off all distractions, and write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t worry about editing or going back to research, just write. Friends of mine and I will hold sprints to see who can write the most in that time frame. It’s a fun little challenge, and it forces you to get text on paper. Likewise, if you find yourself with 10 minutes to spare, use that time to type on your phone or computer, or write in a journal that you bring along. Even if you don’t get a lot out, it may get your mind moving so you’ll be ready to work on your book that night.
  • Record: How many hours do we spend in the car traveling from place to place? How many times have you been in the shower and gotten a great idea but couldn’t write it down? Record yourself. I’ve been on road trips and clicked ‘record’ on my phone and rattled off scenes and story ideas. Even if they’re not directly on paper at that moment, at least I got the idea out of my head and didn’t lose it. There are also speech-to-text programs like Dragon Speech that will record you and type what you say. It takes some getting used to, but it works great if you’re doing dishes or some other task and want to still get the words out.
  • Change Sleep Time: Now, I wouldn’t recommend this if you have insomnia or sleep trouble, but, if you can safely wake up a half hour early or go to bed a half hour later, you can use that extra time to get work done. One of my friends gets all of her writing done between like 5 and 6 am when she’s not being disturbed by anyone. Can you do that too?
  • Lunch Hour: If you get a lunch break at work, that might be a great time to work on writing. Right now, I’m munching on a sandwich and writing this blog entry because I was too tired to write it last night. I still get a break from work, but I’m also being productive with my own craft. But, if you fear you’ll get burnt out, make sure you still take that break.
  • Competitions/Deadlines: Maybe you want to try to push yourself to write because there’s an anthology deadline out there, or a writing contest. I might not write for three months because I know that in November, I’m going to spend 30 days writing for National Novel Writing Month. I pour out 50,000 words, taking more time for my craft that month than usual, because I know it’s only going to last a month. If you set goals for yourself, it might encourage you to find time during a busy schedule.

Whatever you decide to do to get writing time in, remember a couple of things:

  1. You don’t have to write everyday.
  2. Take care of yourself. If you’re burning yourself out writing, you’re not going to enjoy it as much.
  3. Make sure you’re still getting downtime for yourself.
  4. Have fun.

Do you have ways that you fit in writing? Share them below!

Yes, Writing is a Real Job

“You’re a writer? When are you going to get a real job?” 

Far too many writers have heard these scathing questions. Sometimes you can laugh it off and go back to working on your novel or script. Sometimes it comes during a moment of hardship when debt is surmounting, and you’re wondering to yourself if you can actually pull off publishing another book. And while, yes, for some folks writing is a hobby that they do in their free time for fun, it’s also a job for all those other people trying to get paid for their craft. 

“You’re a writer? When are you going to get a real job?”

Far too many writers have heard these scathing questions. Sometimes you can laugh it off and go back to working on your novel or script. Sometimes it comes during a moment of hardship when debt is surmounting, and you’re wondering to yourself if you can actually pull off publishing another book. And while, yes, for some folks writing is a hobby that they do in their free time for fun, it’s also a job for all those other people trying to get paid for their craft.

I don’t think most people understand the amount of work that goes into creating a book and marketing it to the public, but we’ll talk about that in a little bit. First, I’d like to bring up an article on Writer’s Digest called Is It a Hobby or a Job? by author Brian Klems. In it he discusses how writing is definitely work, but it’s not classified as a job until you make money off of it. He also goes on to say that the amount of work that goes into it writing can’t just be classified as a hobby either. I’m sure a lot of you are nodding about the latter point.

In this day and age, it’s hard to make a living as a writer because of the low pay, but that doesn’t make it any less of a job. It just means I have to work that much harder to keep my literary career alive, oh, and also work the other 40-hour job I do during the week at the same time to cover the rest of the cost. Most writers have to still work a 40-hour job, or part time, to make ends meet. Some take the plunge and quit their daytime work to write full time, and I applaud them for taking the initiative.

Unfortunately, that usually elicits the image of someone writing for a couple hours, binge watching Netflix the rest of the day, then complaining they have no money.

Let me kind of give you a view of what it’s like to live as a published indie author, and then tell me if you think that writing is still just a hobby. Keep in mind, I’ve only been doing this for a year, so imagine what an author juggling several books goes through everyday.

  • I work from 8:30-5pm Monday-Friday (and some weekends for overtime).
  • I volunteer in the evening for literary organizations.
  • Starting around 8 or 9 pm until I go to bed, on weekends, or on my “day off,” I do at least one of these things:
    • Research information for my book.
    • World build or develop elements for my book
    • Write or edit my novel.
    • Discuss with my editors and proofreaders what needs to be changed and apply those edits.
    • Talk with my sensitivity readers about changes that need to be made.
    • Keep a presence on Amazon , Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, Wattpad, Goodreads, Bookbub, Allauthor for marketing reasons.
    • Design banners, contests, graphics to post in all these locations about my book.
    • Reach out to bloggers to review my book or do a blog train.
    • Update my website with new author information and author interviews.
    • Build connections with fellow writers, editors, marketers, etc.
    • Set up signing events.
    • Attend signing events in different cities and states.
    • Post chapters on Patreon to help pay for my website.
    • Commission art of characters for stickers/swag.
    • Commission cover art.
    • Create other swag (bookmarks, necklaces, etc)
    • Run an Indiegogo campaign to help cover costs.
    • Participate in online “takeover” events.
    • Query my books.
    • Participate in online book contests to either 1. get an award for my book. 2. find an agent/publisher for my other books.
    • Format my book through Scrivener and Adobe Acrobat.
    • Set up and publish my book through Ingramspark then order copies.
    • Contact libraries and bookstores to carry my book.
    • Set up ISBNs, sales tax permit, BIN.
    • Check inventory and order more supplies on books and all marketing materials.
    • Review finances.
    • Prepare a book launch with local venues.
    • Attend writing conventions to make connections and learn the latest marketing techniques.
    • Participate in author summits both as a listener as an author.

…and the list goes on.

Being an author is a multi-faceted job, and most of the time you have to do everything yourself. Even if you’re a traditionally published author, publishing houses are doing less to market the book and encouraging authors to do more of the work. Many of my author friends spend days at conventions and marketing to sell their books and pay for the table, gas, hotel, meals, and other bills.

But you may ask, “Erin, you charge $15 for your paper book. How do you not make money off of it?”

Because by the time you factor in the editing, proofreading, printing, marketing, and sales tax permit, I don’t see much profit. Every dollar helps and puts me closer to making a better income off of writing. But I have to market to make that happen. I’ve heard it takes until book 2 or 3 to actually see a return in money, which is why initially it may look like authors are so broke, even if they receive advances from publishing companies.

That doesn’t mean writing isn’t a job.

Honestly, for me, it would be my dream job to write full time and survive off of my books. While that might be a long time in coming, I’ll do what I can to keep working towards it. In the meantime, I hope this gives people a better understanding of how much work goes into being an author and that it’s more of a job than most realize.

Zipacna Dragons Launch Party

On Saturday, July 20th, I entered a world of dragons and magic. Between hunting for dragon eggs, dining on Indian cuisine, and watching a young warrior find a dragon, I felt transported to another realm.

On Saturday, July 20th, I entered a world of dragons and magic. Between hunting for dragon eggs, dining on Indian cuisine, and watching a young warrior find a dragon, I felt transported to another realm.

Table.jpeg
Photography by Wayne Anderson

Author S.P. Jayaraj hosted a phenomenal launch party for his book The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons. He held the launch at Groundswell in Cedar Rapids, IA, a cafe that follows the mission of providing a place where everyone has access to fresh, healthy food, regardless of their ability to pay. From the first moment you walked through the door, you were greeted with origami dragons, riddles, prizes, and the smell of butter chicken.

Origami dragons
Photography by Wayne Anderson

The Hunt:

Three wooden walls positioned in a triangle in the center of the room bore riddles created by S.P. Each was a clue to finding one of the hand-made dragon eggs hidden throughout the room. Egg finders not only got to keep the eggs, they also received additional prizes.

Riddles
Photography by Wayne Anderson

The room exploded with people rushing around (both inside and out) trying to decipher the clues and be the first to find the eggs. It didn’t matter if you were an adult or a child, everyone got in on the action, myself included. And while I didn’t find one of the eggs, it was so much fun teaming up with people to try to figure out the riddles. You’d think all my time reading Redwall riddles would have prepared me!

Dragonhunt
Photography by Wayne Anderson

Some eggs were hidden in tables or high above us in the crevice of a wall. And one special egg teased us in the branches of a tree just outside of the building. When it was down to the last egg which challenged the hunters to find the “Winter Elf,” we were given one last clue. “She’s in this room.” I think every woman was approached and asked, “Are you the winter Elf?”

Winter elf2
Photography by Wayne Anderson

In the end, all of the eggs were recovered by these smiling faces.

Egg Winners
Photography by Wayne Anderson

The Reading: 

Now, you would expect there to be a reading at a book launch. What I didn’t expect was there to be two readers, a play, and scenery as well! Author Mindy Mejia,  keeping to the theme, read from her book The Dragon KeeperBehind her, a canvas wall painted to look like a story helped us get lost in her world.

Melinda
Photography by Wayne Anderson

And then it was S.P.’s turn to read an excerpt from his book, only, he did it in script style. Local actors picked up wooden weapons and battled in front of a castle scene then escaped into the woods where the main character, Gradni, was confronted by a roaring dragon. I think about half of the people in the room jumped when the actress unleashed her mighty cry.

The reading
Video by Wayne Anderson

It was delightful to watch the story come to life through the play. It definitely made me want to watch/read more.

You can check out the entire readings and play here.

The Cuisine: 

As if writing a book, making dragon eggs, and putting on a play and party weren’t enough, S.P. also cooked authentic Indian cuisine for everyone. We feasted on a mix of Dhal (yellow lentils), rice (basmati), potato curry, butter chicken, and Indian ice cream, and they were absolutely delicious! People went up multiple times to get additional servings and chatted with others, both familiar and new. There was such a great sense of camaraderie, and how can there not be when you’re sharing the love of books?

Foodstuff
Photography by Wayne Anderson

Overall, it was a fantastic night, and not even the storm outside attempting to break through the blistering heat put a dampener on the evening. It certainly gave me ideas for future launches, and made me excited for whatever S.P. Jayaraj has in store for his next book.

The hunt
Photography by Wayne Anderson

So if you’re looking for an epic fantasy to read all about elves, dragons, and more, check out The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons

About The Secret of the Zipacna Dragons

The young Gradni has always known that dragons were evil, a belief widely held by the four people of Adijari – his own elves who can summon the energy in the atmosphere, the devs who are empowered by light, the amesha who have a kinship with the earth, and the qui-lahk who share a bond with animals. When his father dies fighting the dragons of Zipacna, Gradni’s only goal is to follow in his footsteps and help destroy the dragons once and for all. But after being recruited by the manipulative Mogurn, Gradni must compete against Erdun, an amesha who has been imbued with the power of the Fire Spirit Ta’ar, and trained by the dev cult that has already eradicated one of the eight dragon species. In addition to being a pawn in a political game of conquest, Gradni starts to doubt if the dragons really are the villains he always thought they were. Alone and without guidance he wonders which side deserves his loyalty, his own people who are offering him everything he thought he wanted, or the misunderstood dragons whom he has hated his entire life.

_______

Photography: All photography and video was done by Wayne Anderson at wayne@wgamedia.com.

Publishing 101: Who Should Read Your Book Before Publishing?

When writers finish their book, a common question I see is, “What’s next? Who should review it before it gets published?” It’s a great thing to consider. Some writers edit their book a few times then publish it on amazon. If you’re a trained editor, that should be fine, but it’s always a good idea to bring in fresh eyes to review your work. When you’ve read and edited your book so many times, it’s easy to miss small things because you’re too familiar with it. For example, no matter how many times I read The Purple Door District, I still missed the fact that one of my character’s names was spelled incorrectly.

Actually, five of us missed it, ha!

Now, I want to make this very clear from the beginning. These readers are using their personal time to help you. It’s important for the author to show them respect (and for the readers to also show respect to the author). As an author, don’t pressure readers to get the work done. As a reader, understand that the author has put their heart onto paper, so when you provide critique, make sure it’s constructive.

So who should you talk to?

Beta Readers: Beta readers read your book through the earlier stages. They give their initial impressions of the book, point out plot holes, inconsistencies, or anything major that they feel needs to be changed. This is a great opportunity to make a list of things for the beta readers to look for if you’re concerned about particular scenes, characters, or plot points. This feedback can help you turn your writing into a much stronger book and fix things that might otherwise seem broken. Take what they say into consideration, and perhaps ask if they would be willing to read a second draft.

Also keep in mind that you, as the author, don’t have to make all of the edits. These are opinions, after all, and you ultimately have control over your book. This applies to all the feedback you’re given.

Sensitivity Readers: Sensitivity readers are a subset of beta readers who review works to check for cultural inaccuracies, bias, representation issues, stereotypes, problematic language, etc. I personally use sensitivity readers because I write about characters outside of my scope. Example, I’m a white bi-sexual woman, but I also write about black heterosexual men, as well as Native American, Hispanic, Latino/a, and Indian characters. I want to make sure I’m representing everyone correctly without showing any bias or including accidental racist undertones. Now, there’s an argument going around that books shouldn’t need sensitivity readers, and if it’s fiction, why should it matter? In my opinion, correctly portraying people and cultures is very important, and I want to make sure my readers can see themselves in the characters and aren’t offended by my work. We already have enough racism going on in our country today, our books don’t need to add to it. I know I can’t please everyone, but I can at least make an attempt to appeal to the masses and not be ignorant to the needs of those outside of my scope. For more information about sensitivity readers, check out the link above.

Editors: This goes without saying, but you should have an editor look over your book. Again, no matter how many times we read our work (even if we’re editors ourselves), we’re going to miss things. We’ve built the entire world in our head. We might know what we mean in a sentence or paragraph, but an editor can clean it up to make it clearer for readers to understand. You can hire different types of editors too, whether they’re copy editors, line editors, or they kind of do it all. Expect to pay for an editor. They put a lot of work into their craft and should be compensated for it.

Proofreaders: A proofreader is one of the last people to look at the book and will skim it for any final spelling or grammatical errors. While editors can do this as well, it helps to have another pair of fresh eyes on your book even after the editing stage. I had two proofreaders who caught things my editor and I missed. And the proofreaders even found errors that one of the other proofreaders missed. My proofreaders review my book just before I click print, that way any egregious errors should be caught.

Except Carlos…your misspelled name will live on in infamy.

ARC Readers: Arc, or advanced reader copy, readers are the ones who first get your printed book in their hands. They may be tasked with leaving reviews on Amazon or providing quotes you can use when marketing your book. They may also catch any final errors that you missed, or problematic plot devices. At this point, everything should be pretty clean, but it does sometimes happen that an arc reader will point out a name the author forgot to remove, or perhaps a red herring that shouldn’t be in the book at all.

In extreme cases, ARC readers, or early critics, might point out a major objection to a book like what happened in Amelie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir. The author pulled her novel from printing because of objections readers made about the depiction of slavery. Some critics denounced the novel, calling it “blatantly racist.” It’s possible having a sensitivity reader on the manuscript may have helped with this issue. In response, she said she intended to write the novel from her “immediate cultural perspective” and address indentured and human trafficking in industries across Asia instead. This situation started a twitter explosion on whether sensitivity readers are needed or not, and it still continues today. Be that as it may, it was the ARC readers who made the objections and caused Zhao to halt her book, which may have helped her save face in the end.

As a note, I think Zhao reacted with professional grace and respect. She took her reader’s objections in stride and sought to fix the issue rather than condemn the readers for their critiques.

These are just a few people who can review your book before it’s ready for publication. Make sure, too, that you’re giving your book to people who will provide honest feedback and won’t just say, “Omg, I love this. It’s amazing!” or “This is garbage. Throw it out.” Neither of these is helpful (though it is nice to receive the praise). And when you receive feedback, be gracious and understand that these people are just trying to help you. They aren’t your enemy. They aren’t trying to make you fail. They truly, and honestly, want to make your book the best it can possibly be. If you’re not able to handle critique, you may want to reconsider publishing so soon because, believe me, this world is filled with critics (both good and bad).

Another thing to keep in mind is hiring editors, sensitivity readers, etc., does not come cheap. Make sure you budget for it, or find other arrangements with the readers. Whether it’s swapping book edits for book edits, or giving free copies of your book to readers, make their time worth it. If you respect and appreciate them, they’ll respect and appreciate you.

What about you? Do you have particular readers you go to when you finish a book? What’s helped you the most? Let us know! Also, if you’re an editor, sensitivity reader, proofreader, beta reader, or ARC reader, feel free to post your services below!

 

Sleep and Creativity

I’m going to get a little personal this week, though I think it’ll focus on something a lot of writers can relate to; sleep and creativity. For the past year, I’ve had trouble sleeping at night. No matter when I go to bed, I always seem to wake up two or more times a night and stay awake anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. Having that happen once or twice is one thing, but dealing with it every single night tends to wear a person down. When my doctor checked the stats on my CPAP machine, it registered I was getting maybe about 4-6 hours of sleep a night with all the waking up.

You can probably imagine what the lack of sleep has done to me:

  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Depression
  • Worse Anxiety
  • Memory issues

And so on and so forth. Not exactly fun things to deal with when you’re trying to write/publish a book.

I’ve worked with some people to get my sleep under control, but it wasn’t until I met a cognitive behavior specialist that I started to actually notice some changes. For the first two weeks I met with her, she asked me to track my sleep. I was shocked when I realized it looked like a checkerboard. I might get a couple hours of sleep before waking up, but for the most part, my night was “asleep, awake, asleep, awake, asleep.” Worse, when I would wake up in the middle of the night, I usually went to food for the comfort, which just doesn’t help with weight loss and staying healthy.

My sleep doctor describes it as maintenance insomnia. I can usually fall asleep within about 5 minutes. Heck, I’ve fallen asleep standing up before! But staying asleep, yeah, that doesn’t happen much for me. All the sleep I had started to get by using a CPAP machine just went out the window and left me a miserable mess. Frankly, I think the lack of sleep is what led to my emotional episodes in February of this year.

After tracking my sleep, my doctor told me that my circadian rhythm is off kilter. Her solution? Condensed sleep. Okay, so what does that mean? Basically, her idea was to focus on forcing me to get quality sleep over quantity. She wanted to retrain my brain to understand what it was to be “sleepy” and to be so tired that I would just sleep through the night. She had a few other stipulations as well:

  • No caffeine after 2pm
  • Sleep for 6 hours from 1:30am-7:30am
  • No naps
  • No resting in your bed
  • No phone in your bedroom before sleep

Our plan was to do it for two weeks before I saw her again, mostly because she said I would hate her by the second week. I thought she was kidding.

She wasn’t.

It’s officially been two weeks, and except for two nights when I accidentally fell asleep a little early on the couch, I’ve followed the rules closely. Each night I’ve gone to sleep and stayed in bed. Anxiety remained quiet. My hunger ebbed. All I wanted, all I craved was sleep! And by the second week, oh yeah, I hated her. I still might throw a shoe at her when I see her on Wednesday. I never thought fighting to stay awake until 1:30 am would be so hard. It has some benefits. I get more downtime for myself. I caught up on shows and finally watched Good Omens. 

But the costs more than outweigh the benefits. I’m exhausted all the time. I’m grumpy, depressed, stressed, and a complete bundle of emotions. And for those of you who know me well, I don’t like not having control of my emotions. I’ve actually started to cry because I was so tired and so angry that I couldn’t just nap. Even now as I type this, I can feel my eyes getting heavy and my body just begging me to go to sleep.

I will say this, the practice has really made me appreciate sleep a lot more. Our plan on Wednesday, I believe, is to add time onto my sleep schedule so I’m getting closer to 7 hours. I personally think I function best on about 7 1/2 – 8 hours, but even that hasn’t been enough when I’m trying to recover from many sleepless nights.

By now you’re probably asking, but Erin, what does this have to do with creativity?

Everything.

For some people, staying up late or lack of sleep can create a drive to write. For me, my muses have basically shut themselves off and my characters are giving me the cold shoulder. I have this extra time at night, but the idea of putting a single word on paper is almost unbearable. Thinking hurts. Trying to be creative is too exhausting. It takes all my energy just to stay awake. How I managed to edit and publish a book last year is beyond me.

Though it would probably explain the emotional roller coaster ride I felt during the process.

I want my creativity back. I want to be able to curl up at night when I’m sleepy and know that I can rest through the night and rise with enough energy to create my worlds. Sleep is so important. Like, I didn’t realize how important until I went through the past two weeks. And I know, 6 hours may not sound bad, but for me, I need more sleep. Technically, you can function on 5 hours of sleep a night for an extended period, but that doesn’t mean that your creativity will work. Take care of your mind and bodies. Give them the rest they both so desperately need and crave. I’m hoping once I add on the hours, my passion for writing will resume. and I’ll get out of the very tired writer’s block clouding my mind.

Valley West Mall Book Signing!

Wow, what an incredible weekend! I spent June 29th and 30th over at Valley West Mall in Des Moines, IA for a two-day book signing event presented by Indie Author Book Expo. Organized by Jenn Thompson, this event brought around 40 authors/creators together to sell books, make connections, and meet the good people of Des Moines. Despite an art festival, and the abysmal heat rolling through Iowa, the expo still brought 1,100 shoppers. Between author tables, live music, interviews, and a poetry reading, people definitely had a lot to see.

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This was my first time selling at a two-day event, and I was beyond nervous before I went. Author Alexandra Penn and I made the trip together, which sadly will be our last big show for sometime as she’s getting ready to move to school in Scotland. We made the most of it though, including hilarious road-trip conversations, dancing to the YMCA and other fun songs at the mall, and just sharing time being authors and friends rather than Directors. It was a nice reprieve.

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One of the best parts of the event was getting to catch up with both familiar and new faces. Brian K Morris and I haven’t seen one another since I.O.W.A. last year, and I can’t tell you how great it was to get a big hug from him. He’s been a mentor to me practically since we met, and I’ve embodied his ideology of “rising tide” when it comes to working with other authors. If we all work together, we rise together. Frankly, I’m shocked and disappointed in myself that we didn’t get a picture together!

He brought with him Teresa Dunn who is building her writing career even as we speak! I have to say, the expo is a great place to learn the ins and outs of selling books and to meet amazing authors who can offer tips about anything from how to get published to how to set up your signing table. Ashley Lovell and I spent plenty of time discussing ideas for table displays and brainstorming what would catch someone’s eye. I can’t wait to see what her table looks like when her next book comes out! Cassandra DenHartog (come see her at I.O.W.A 2019!) decided to add a little friend to my table who is now fondly named #Skelebird. He and #Yorick the skull will be making appearances and shenanigans at future signings, I’m sure.

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Other familiar faces included the incredible Kristine Plum, a fellow urban/paranormal fantasy writer (Alex and I weren’t the only ones bopping along to music).  Satish Jayaraj went around teaching authors how to create origami dragons, which are featured in his book. He’s actually hosting a book launch event on July 20th in Cedar Rapids, IA, so you should check him out and show your support! Tabetha Waite stopped by for a picture. She’s a great historical romance author I’ve featured in my website interviews.

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As always, I made a lot of great connections with the authors, but I also met some incredible readers. Most of the people who stopped by my table were very generous and interested in The Purple Door District. My favorite experience, though, was meeting two lovely young women who just couldn’t hold back their love for reading. They not only got the book, they proudly displayed PDD art and Bianca’s necklace. Seeing their excitement is what encourages me to keep writing, because I see myself in them when I was younger, eagerly searching for my next favorite book. I truly hope they enjoy it and they use it to fuel their own creativity.

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All-in-all, it was a great event, and I can’t thank Jenn Thompson enough for all the hard work she put into IABE. As someone who is currently trying to plan an author signing, I know just how much goes into preparing something like this. It’s no easy job, and it takes a very caring and hard-working soul to do what she does. Check out her blog to see more fun pictures from the event!

With that, this very tired writer will bid you ado. Keep your eye out for more pictures from future events, as well as what trouble Skelebird gets himself into.

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As a reminder, The Purple Door District is in the running for a reader’s choice award. I still need 50 nominations by 7/13 to move on to the next round, so if you have a moment, please submit your vote here.

Happy reading!

Marketing Tip: Street Team

This week’s marketing topic was inspired by Byrd Nash’s instagram post about street teams. Be sure to check out her many writing tips, as well as her new book:

Wicked Wolves
Find it on Amazon.

To start off, what is a Street Team? This is essentially a group of people who are your go-to folks for marketing your book. They’re the ones who share your posts on social media, leave book reviews, provide writing feedback, etc. They’re the backbone of your whole marketing plan who can help get the word out about your novel. I’ll go more in-depth in a moment, but one thing to keep in mind is that these people are usually volunteers who take time out of their day to help you promote. Treat them with kindness and respect and understand that sometimes they can’t always be “on” to help you. Some of my street team folks, like Brian K Morris, are there to provide me with moral support when I feel kicked down, and I can’t appreciate it enough. So be kind.

Why Have a Street Team? 

Whether you’re trade or indie, you’re going to have to do some marketing for your book. As an indie author, I wear the hats of the writer, editor, proofreader, designer, marketer, website creator, book signing scheduler, etc. It’s a lot of work. But, as I’ve expressed in many blogs, you don’t have to go it alone. The street team helps take some of the burden off of your shoulders. When you need to reach a wider audience, they’re there to spread the word. You can’t beat having a lovely group of people to help you.

Who Are They? / Where Can You Find Them? 

Honestly, your street team can be anyone. Family. Friends. Editors. Fans. They should be people you trust who have shown interest in your book and your journey.  They may even be fellow writers that you’ve met on twitter or instagram, or during writing conventions. Be sure to ask them before you add them to your street team, though. People don’t like being bombarded with information that they never asked to receive. One way you can keep track of who’s on your team is by creating a facebook group specifically for them. I have a group called The Purple Door District: Street Team! where I share my information. Generally, my street team is the first to see new content before it goes out to the rest of the public. Interested in becoming part of my street team? Let me know!

Arc/Beta Readers

One way the street team can help is by volunteering to either become a beta reader or an arc (advanced reader copy) reader. They’ll read your book and provide feedback about possible things you need to change to help make your story stronger. Specifically ask them to review topics/plots/characters you’re most concerned about because your beta/arc readers will be your last line of defense before you go public.

Reviews

Having people willing to leave reviews is so important for an author. Like it or not, the algorithms on Amazon will determine how your book gets promoted. The more reviews you have, the more likely Amazon will be to share it around. I believe the key number is 50 reviews, but frankly, any amount helps. Reviews don’t have to be complex, either. Your street team can leave a rating and something as simple as a one word review. Granted, getting a full review is wonderful, and I wouldn’t snuff that if they’re willing to do it. I’ve had some excellent reviews from Ellen Rozek, Byrd Nash, and Shakyra Dunn for example. The best ones are when the readers are willing to provide constructive feedback along with their kind words.

Social Media Sharing

Another way your street team can help you is by sharing important news about your book across their social media platforms. The more people you reach, the better chance you have of selling your book, or acquiring followers. They can share things like cover releases, book releases, giveaways, or, hey, even your quest for a reader’s choice award. Be sure to give them ample notice and all the information that they need to share your news around. While you may have some of the same friends, chances are all of your street team members will have an audience that you don’t know. The more platforms you can get across, (twitter, facebook, instagram, goodreads, allauthor, bookbub, etc) the better.

Book Buyers

Now, let me be clear, just because someone is on your street team, that doesn’t mean they’re obligated to buy your book. But, it is a nice perk if it happens. Likely your street team members are readers themselves and are interested in your book or want to go the extra mile and support you by buying your novel. Can’t say no to that, right? Be sure to interact with them and the rest of your book-buying audience. Let them know how much you appreciate them for helping you.

These are just a few ways that a street team can help you, especially near a book launch or book release day. Do you have a street team? How have they helped you? Feel free to share your story below!

On another note, I really am working to get nominated for the Epic Fantasy Fanatics Reader’s Choice Award. If you have a second, please consider voting for The Purple Door District. Thank you so much!